The Economics of Hurling a Shoe

What would you do when you are frustrated or angered by a leader’s action (or the lack of it)? You can spit, call names, shout, burn effigies, bite your lip and remain silent, or keep listening to your MP3 and pretend you never thought or heard about it. And, you can also throw a shoe. At least that’s how people seem to express their anguish in recent times. Throwing a shoe at leaders is globally becoming a synonym for expressing displeasure, a method for venting rage, a sign of extreme disrespect, and an act of ultimate insult.

Jarnail Singh, a journalist with the Hindi news daily, Dainik Jagran, who flung a shoe at the Indian Home Minister, P. Chidambaram today, is not first of his kinds. He has several Indian and foreign predecessors. In December last year, Muntadhar al-Zaidi, an Iraqi Journalist, called the then American President, George Bush, a ‘dog’ and threw a pair of size 10 footwear. Though Bush carefully dodged it, the assailant became an overnight celebrity and a hero among the Iraqi general public. The act also inspired several tech-savvy Internet game designers. Result: tossing shoe at George Bush became the favorite pass time of several Internet users. Muntadhar is currently languishing in an Iraqi prison serving a three-year sentence.

In February 2009, the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo, met with almost similar insult while he was giving a speech on Global Economy at the University of Cambridge, London. A young member of the hand-picked audience blew a whistle, screamed ‘how can you listen to these lies’, and hurled his shoe, which missed Mr. Wen by a few feet. A message in a board that was discussing this incident said, ‘He got lucky. He didn’t do it in China’. The current state of assailant is not known.

If throwing shoe is ‘The’ way expressing anger at Leaders, shoe manufacturers will never be susceptible to recession, one of my colleagues quipped. I beg to differ. It’s a simple case of supply and demand. You will soon find several retail shoe chains all over India. And they may give you ‘throw one, get two free’ offers. You may also soon find ‘used shoes’ market, selling a pair with a tag ‘Rs. 99 – Thrown at the Prime Minister’. Politicians may conduct ‘Shoe throwing’ rallies or processions. The famous New York based Christie’s may try to auction ‘Only shoe thrown at Michael Jackson’.

Keeping the banter aside, next time, Journalists in India and elsewhere may be asked to take their shoes off before attending a press conference. But I bet no one can stop a journalist from spitting at the leader or worse, writing a stinker in their column the next day. To sum it up, I would like to quote Al Pacino’s words to Russell Crowe in the 1999 movie ‘Insider’. ‘Ordinary people under extraordinary pressure, Mike. What the hell do you expect? Grace and consistency?’

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